Health & Wellness: Patients as Consumers Driving Change

February 23, 2017 Kevin Driscoll, Ph.D.


The face of healthcare is undergoing major changes. Traditional relationships between healthcare providers, payers and patients are being turned on their head. This revolution is being driven by multiple factors, including: 1) demographics, as huge numbers of Baby Boomers enter their senior years; 2) the advent of healthcare plans that place greater responsibility for healthcare decisions and costs on patients; and 3) the explosive growth in eHealth, which has created unprecedented access to health-related information, a proliferation of health-focused internet sites and services, as well as smartphone apps that put information and personalized health data at your fingertips.

These forces have transformed the patient into a healthcare consumer who shops for value and demands improved quality, cost, convenience, and performance…just like s/he does for “traditional” consumer products. Yet delivering on performance requirements in this space often demands the scientific rigor associated with the life science and pharmaceutical industries. Having led both consumer product and pharmaceutical innovation for Procter & Gamble, including serving as a founding member and leader of PGT Healthcare, a joint venture between P&G and Teva Pharmaceuticals, I view the convergence between CPG, rigorous science, and even Food & Beverage as tremendously fertile ground for consumer-led innovation and growth. Today’s post highlights key demographic shifts, along with some thoughts on opportunities for innovation in a consumer-driven environment.

Baby-Boomers are doing it again!  Baby-boomers, those born between 1946-1964, represent a population of about 75 million in the United States.  This year, there will be more than 45 million Boomers age 65 or older in the US, and every day, 10,000 more will celebrate their 60th birthday. Globally, there were over 500 million people over age 65 in 2010; this number will grow to 1.5 billion by 2050.  It’s not news that by their sheer numbers alone, Boomers have influenced and shaped every life stage they’ve passed through. But unlike generations that came before, this cohort is not slipping gracefully (or quietly) into “old age.” They are focused on longevity, determined to stave off the physical effects and visible signs of aging.  Along with their desire to stay young, cool, and healthy, Boomers have significant disposable income. This combines to make their wants and needs a key driver of innovation in health and wellness.  Consumption by Boomers has been key factor in the explosive global expansion of the dietary supplements category (nearing $40B in the US); the dramatic increases in cosmetic procedures like neurotoxin injections and dermal fillers (US sales of Botox alone are reaching $5B); and the growth of the fitness industry, driving a proliferation of clubs, yoga studios and personal trainers. Demand for consumer-driven innovation in wellness products and services will continue to grow as Boomers continue to age.

At the same time, we can’t ignore the younger Gen X (77 million) and Millennial (83 million) consumers who embrace the idea of work-life balance and proactively seek to create and live healthy lifestyles.  Like Boomers, for them, the focus is moving from getting well to staying well and being well. This shift presents many opportunities for innovation. For example: dietary supplements with consumer relevant, clinically proven claims; the latest probiotics developed from a growing understanding of the microbiome; healthy foods including everything organic as well as “nutritional genomics” to create personalized diets; a new wave of physical and mental fitness services (what’s the next Soul Cycle, Peloton?); and the next generation of devices and apps to enable easy tracking of validated health and wellness metrics.  Key to launching successful new products and services will be demonstrating and communicating value to the consumer.


The Boomer Health Paradox. Despite their aggressive pursuit of longevity and wellness, Boomers overall are less healthy than their predecessors.  While they smoke less and live longer, they have higher incidences of chronic health issues than their parent’s generation. The American Hospital Association reports that most Americans over age 60 have at least one chronic health condition (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, etc.).  Moreover, it’s estimated that by 2030 one out of four Baby Boomers will have diabetes, one third will be considered obese, and almost half will have arthritis.  Given the numbers of patients and the nature of these diseases, healthcare for Boomers is taxing current healthcare systems, and the strain will only increase.  New pharmaceutical products, including personalized medicines, will help reduce the disease burden, but in most cases at significant cost.  

For many chronic noncommunicable diseases, drugs alone are not enough. Significant lifestyle changes are also required.  Such changes are difficult to sustain, and New Year's resolutions fade quickly. With new product and service offerings that support healthy diets, physical activity, and mental health, there are certainly opportunities for innovation.  Opportunities also exist to find better ways to keep the aging population mobile and independent. Further, tech-related services and tools that enhance compliance will be needed to achieve both improved outcomes and reduced healthcare costs.  For example, several start-ups, as well as large healthcare companies, are exploring “gamification” combined with drug therapies to drive healthy behaviors.  This approach is not unique to an older population. It has been applied to reinforcing behaviors such tooth-brushing (Oral-B’s Genius; Phillips Sonicare for kids), improved compliance in taking medications, and reinforcing healthy lifestyle behaviors in people with chronic disease (e.g., MySugr for type 1 diabetes).

Today’s smarter, more engaged patient represents tremendous opportunity for those innovators who get in touch with and listen to consumers. Simple, collaborative solutions will bring consumers and innovators closer to a common goal more effectively than ever before. Conversely, this paradigm shift poses challenges to those who are not listening closely. Success will require a consumer-led approach and the right blend of perspectives, talent, expertise, and wisdom.

Need help getting started? Contact me, and let’s discuss how YourEncore can help you identify and leverage opportunities to serve this new patient-as-consumer market, and make sure to tune in to this episode of the Pharmcast concerning priorities in the patient engagement space.

 About Kevin Driscoll, Ph.D.: Dr. Driscoll spent nearly 20 years leading global R&D for pharmaceutical and consumer health care businesses at Procter & Gamble, including 5 years as a founding member of PGT Healthcare, a global joint venture between P&G and Teva Pharmaceuticals where he led the PGT Global Technology organization. He has a strong track record of bringing innovative healthcare products to market, including on key brands such as Vicks, Prilosec, Ratiopharm, Metamucil and Swisse Vitamins & Supplements.  He is an expert science advisor to government and industry and an adjunct Professor at the Rutgers University School of Pharmacy. A YourEncore expert since 2016, Kevin helps clients realize consumer health opportunities at the intersection of the CPG, Pharmaceutical, and Food & Beverage Industries.



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